As the weather begins to warm up, I’m thrilled to re-introduce smoothies into my breakfast meals. While searching Pinterest for new green smoothie recipes to try, I stumbled upon yummy images of smoothie bowls containing spirulina. Before I determined whether or not I should add spirulina to my smoothie grocery list, I did some research on the scientific evidence supporting or refuting the health claims of spirulina and am sharing my knowledge to everyone.
What is spirulina? Spirulina is a microscopic cyanobacterium containing essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and chlorophyll that is marketed as a dietary supplement. People can consume the deep green bacteria by taking the tablet or powered form with a beverage or mixing it with other food items, mainly smoothies. The health claims of spirulina are it has anti-oxidant properties, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-cancer properties, can decrease LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and triglyceride levels, can reduce blood pressure levels, protects against anemia, and lowers blood sugar levels. So, is spirulina a dietary supplement worth implementing into the diet?
Claim 1: LDL and triglyceride levels are lowered due to the consumption of spirulina.
Low-density lipoprotein is a type of lipoprotein (a protein whose purpose it to carry fatty acids and cholesterol in the circulatory and lymphatic system) that transports cholesterol into arterial walls, and triglycerides are a combination of three fatty acids bonded to glycerol backbones. When LDL and fatty acids become oxidized in the walls of arteries, they induce plaque buildup in the arteries and can eventually lead to atherosclerosis. If health claim 1 is supported by a sufficient amount of scientific evidence, then the consumption of spirulina could be a simple way to prevent atherosclerosis. One study testing the effects of consuming spirulina on serum lipid levels provides promising evidence on the effectiveness of spirulina on lowering LDL and triglyceride levels. Researchers in the study fed hamsters high cholesterol diets for four weeks in order to induce hypercholesterolemia in the hamsters. The hamsters were then divided into groups and fed different supplements (along with a high cholesterol diet for another 4 weeks). One hamster group was fed a combination of spirulina and fish oil supplements, another group was feed fish oil supplements alone, and another group was fed spirulina supplements alone. Blood and aorta tissue samples were taken from the hamsters during the experiment and after when the experiment was complete. The group fed spirulina supplements alone had significant decreases in their LDL and triglyceride levels and increases in their HDL levels when compared to the hamsters fed the fish oil supplements. Although this study supports the health claim, it was not conducted on humans, and there may be differences in the results if the study was conducted on humans. But, another study conducted on human diabetic patients also showed that the consumption of spirulina decreased LDL cholesterol levels.
Claim 2: Spirulina lowers blood sugar levels.
According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, spirulina supplementation significantly decreased HbA1c levels (HbA1c is a measure of how well blood sugar levels are controlled), and subjects who consumed spirulina had lower blood glucose levels. However, these subjects blood glucose levels were not significantly lower than the control group who did not receive supplementation. The study sample size was also small (there were only 25 subjects), so further studies need to occur in order to determine if spirulina can actually lower and control blood glucose levels.
From the research I have read, I do not believe it will harm me to add spirulina to my smoothies, but further research on the effects of consuming spirulina need to be conduced before I begin adding this dietary supplement to my breakfast meals.
- Leech, Joe. “10 Proven Benefits of Spirulina (No. 1 Is Very Impressive).” Authority Nutrition. N.p., 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
- Lee Hee, Ji-Eun Park, Young-Ju Choi, Kap-Bum Huh, and Wha-Young Kim. “A Randomized Study to Establish the Effects of Spirulina in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patients.” Nutrition Research and Practice Nutr Res Pract4 (2008): 295-300. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
- Muga, Miriam, and Jane C-J Chao. “Effects of Fish Oil and Spirulina on Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Hypercholesterolemic Hamsters.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine BMC Complement Altern Med1 (2014): 470-80. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
- Parikh, Panam, Uliyar Mani, and Uma Iyer. “Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” Journal of Medicinal Food4 (2001): 193-99. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
- Kita, N. Kume, M. Minami, K. Hayashida, T. Murayama, H. Sano, H. Moriwaki, H. Kataoka, E. Nishi, H. Horiuchi, H. Arai, M. Yokode. Role of oxidized LDL in atherosclerosis. Ann. NY Acad. Sci., 947 (2001), pp. 199–205. Web. 14 Mar 2016.